A legal retainer agreement, also known as a retainer agreement or engagement letter, is a contract between a person offering services and a person paying for services and is typically signed at the beginning of the contractual relationship. For example, an attorney generally requires a client to sign an attorney retainer agreement before commencing representation. A retainer agreement usually outlines the scope, payment terms, requirements and expectations of the contractual relationship.
The purpose of a retainer agreement is to spell out in clear written terms the exact duties of the service provider and the client so that all parties to the agreement have clear expectations regarding what will be provided and how.
There are several categories of information in a retainer agreement. Typically, it will (1) identify the person or persons who will work on the matter and the rate each will charge; (2) define payment terms, including when and how payments must be made; (3) determine the services the client can expect to receive; (4) specify the services not covered by the agreement; (5) enumerate what is expected from the client, e.g. availability, certain information and payment; (6) indicate how and why the agreement may be terminated; and (7) state what will happen with any records once the services are completed.
Accompanying many retainer agreements is a retainer fee, which may or may not be refundable. This fee helps guarantee that the service provider will remain available to work on the client's matter and also provides a source of funds to cover costs-to-date should the client fail to pay.
A retainer agreement often prevents the service provider from acting for an adversary of, or in a manner contrary to, the client. For example, when a client retains an attorney to act for her, the client thereby prevents the attorney from acting for an adversary. In addition, the retainer agreement answers in advance many questions about the contractual agreement in order to avoid future problems based upon misunderstandings.
Many service providers in a vast array of businesses utilise retainer agreements as part of their regular business practice, including attorneys, consultants and freelancers.